An unforgettable community service experience in the ‘forgotten province’…
By Inarie Jacobs
Health should not be taken for granted – a lesson I learned as a child whilst being very ill due to my poor lifestyle and dietary habits. After this experience, I decided to study dietetics at the North-West University of Potchefstroom to share this lesson as far and wide as possible.
I started my community service journey in December 2018 at a small rural hospital in the beautiful Transkei area of the Eastern Cape – a.k.a. “the forgotten province”. The challenges seemed a bit overwhelming at first as I had to trade my luxurious lifestyle habits for much simpler ones. Not only was the hospital an hour away from where I lived but it also never had a dietitian or a dietetic department before. No equipment and no supplements together with a huge language barrier made counseling with patients nearly impossible. To be honest, the tunnel did not seem to have light at the end.
However, after a few weeks of feeling really sorry for myself, I noticed how heavily the burden of wasting, obesity and poverty weighed on this community. The effects of the nutrition transition were clearly visible in this rural area which made me realized how badly nutrition intervention was needed. This led me to change my perspective and strategy towards this year and soon my challenges transformed into endless opportunities.
I get to build and establish a whole new dietetic department to promote our profession – an opportunity few community service dietitians have. I’m forced to improvise and to be more creative with cost-effective tools and methods to educate and treat patients – a skill I would have never developed if things were easy. I’m forced to reach out to the surrounding dietitians for help – a network of professional colleagues I would have otherwise not built. I’m also trying to learn the beautiful isiXhosa language to interact with patients – a privilege I would have otherwise not had.
In short, comfort does not enhance growth! I’m grateful to be pushed beyond my comfortable limits as it is teaching me more than any book ever will!
I encourage all future and current community service dietitians to rise to the opportunity to lead, to influence and to inspire others with your attitude, deeds, and knowledge. To Quote Anne Frank: “You don’t always know how great you are, how much you can accomplish and what your potential is”. Dare more boldly, walk that extra mile and give it all you have!
A few rural survival tools:
- Rural is never a textbook case.
- Be culture sensitive and respect different views/religions.
- Get to know local indigenous foods, what traditional foods are and how they are prepared.
- Ask for help as much as possible. You don’t have to know everything, just be willing to learn.
- Know that change doesn’t happen overnight and that some may be very resistant towards it.
- Be kind and treat people with respect, no matter their background, title or position.
- Be gentle and patient with yourself, your progress and setbacks.
ADSA, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, is one of the country’s professional
organizations for registered dietitians. It is a registered non-profit organization served by qualified volunteers. The Association represents and plays a vital role in developing the dietetic profession so as to contribute towards the goal of achieving optimal nutrition for all South Africans. Through its network of ten branches, ADSA provides dietitians with the opportunity to meet and network with other professionals in their provinces. Through its comprehensive Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system, ADSA supports dietitians in meeting their mandatory on-going learning, which is essential to maintain their registration status with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Visit: http://www.adsa.org.za